Friday, January 20, 2012

The Chacala Secret...
By Michael

The beach was packed to the gills with Mexicans on holiday. The same beach will likely be
much less crowded when you arrive. This picture was taken during the Christmas break.
We hear that the only time of year Chacala is more crowded is during Easter/Santa Semana.
Chacala is a gem, a tiny, picturesque cove on the west coast of mainland Mexico, between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. This anchorage is described in every guidebook I’ve seen for this coast, yet none mention its best feature: the hike to the rim of the extinct volcano.

Chacala changed since I was last here in 1997. Where there was once only a spattering of modest homes and tiny businesses, and just a few palapa restaurants on the beach, now there is more of everything and several spectacular hillside mansions. But Chacala on steroids retains its natural beauty. And even though the volcano trail we hiked back then is long gone, erased by the changes, no worries, we found a way. To any cruisers planning to make landfall in Chacala, following is what we did:
Once you’ve landed ashore and checked in with the port captain, walk down the beach in a southerly direction until the palapa restaurants end. Now get on the inland side of the chain link fence and continue in the direction you were going, but on the dirt frontage road. Soon you will come to a sign and a gate marking the entrance to the Mar de Jade Holistic Living Center (where wealthy people come to do yoga and starve themselves). Continue in, you have our permission.

Now eyes left. See the grassy parking lot where each space is defined by a palm tree? Good, walk left into this lot and continue on to the end. There you will see the start of a trail. Take it. If within 50 feet or so you cross a brook on a concrete bridge, you are in the right place. Keep going.
Just as you start to really enjoy this delightful jungle trail, say after an 1/8th of a mile or so, it will end where bulldozers created the road leading to those spectacular hillside mansions. If you can somehow pick up the trail on the other side of the road, more power to you, we could not. Instead, we followed the road up (to the right, or towards the beach). After about a half-mile or so, you’ll see the first gated entrance to a hillside home; keep going up.

Finally, the road will dead end at what must be the mother of all spectacular hillside mansions, judging by the entrance (I would be happy to retire in the gatehouse). The place is called Orofino, the gatehouse is up the drive. Walk up the drive, you have our permission.
Now, on your left, about 30 feet before the gatehouse, there is a depression in the low wall bordering the drive. Beyond that depression, there appears to be a trail going up the hillside, or at least a break in the foliage where construction debris is scattered. On our way up, we hopped this 12-inch wall and scrambled up the hill. We saw a lean-to and more construction materials off to the left. After about 150 feet, we came across another, very narrow fire road. (Now, it turns out--as we learned on our way down--that this narrow road actually intersects the Orofino driveway beyond the gatehouse. A much more civilized approach to the volcano would be to pass the gatehouse and turn left at the first intersection, about 100 feet beyond.)

This is a road that runs along the rim of the volcano. If you go left, you will ascend to the highest part of the rim. At that point, orchards of some kind of tree (I imagined them to be olive trees, but they’re not) will surround you. Off to your right, you will see grasslands down below, in the perfectly round crater, about a 1/4-mile in circumference.
All of the way up (and down), you will catch stunning views of the bay and of your boat at anchor. Once beyond the lush jungle, to where the orchards are, the neat rows of those olive-looking  trees juxtaposed against the deep blue water and mountains beyond, will make you think you’ve landed in the Med (not that I’ve ever been there).

Of course, we left the camera aboard for this hike. Doh!

In Banderas Bay, we enjoyed swimming in the water. Now in the
Sea of Cortez, cooler waters may preclude pictures like this until spring.

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